Design Plastics for Recyclability

The article ``Putting Plastics to Use a Second Time Around,'' Oct. 18, may have left readers with a much rosier view than is warranted. While the American Plastics Council is spending millions to convince the public that plastics recycling is growing rapidly, its own statistics tell a different story. Plastics recycling has stalled out: Recycling rates for all major types of plastic showed no significant gains between 1992 and 1993. With its overall rate hovering at less than 7 percent, recycling of plastics trails every other major material: glass, steel, aluminum, and paper. And most plastic packaging is riding on the coattails of the industry's only recycling success stories: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) soda bottles (41 percent recovered) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk jugs (24 percent recovered); recovery of all other types of plastic is stuck at 1 to 2 percent.

While the article correctly indicates that poor economics and sorting difficulties are key reasons for the stall-out, the industry has resisted implementing some straightforward solutions. One example: Consumer product manufacturers persist in using multiple types of containers for the same product. Efforts to recycle such ``look-alike'' packaging are doomed to failure.

Makers and users of plastic have yet to learn to work together to close the loop and put recovered plastics into the mainstream of production - by designing for recyclability. Instead, plastics recycling has been sidelined - and the numbers show it. Richard A. Denison Washington Environmental Defense Fund

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